On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FG-02-82-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: February 3, 2011
Before Judges Axelrad, R. B. Coleman, and J. N. Harris.
D.C., Sr., the biological father of D.C., Jr. (Junior), appeals from an August 20, 2009 Family Part judgment terminating his parental rights to his then six and one-half year old son and awarding guardianship to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) for the purpose of effectuating Junior's adoption.*fn1 On appeal, D.C., Sr. argues DYFS did not prove by clear and convincing evidence the statutory prongs required to establish that Junior's best interests required severance of his parental ties. We note that the Law Guardian supports termination of D.C., Sr.'s parental rights to his son.
After considering the record and briefs in light of the applicable law, we are satisfied the trial judge's findings and conclusions are firmly supported by substantial, credible evidence in the record as a whole. See, e.g., N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. A.R.G., 361 N.J. Super. 46, 78 (App. Div. 2003), aff'd in part, modified in part and remanded, 179 N.J. 264 (2004), certif. denied, 186 N.J. 603 (2006). We affirm.
We need not describe in detail the many facts the trial court considered. We instead provide a brief summary of the cogent facts we considered in concluding the judge's findings were well-supported by the evidence.
The following testimony and evidence were presented during the nine-day trial commencing in January 2009, and concluding in June 2009. DYFS presented the factual testimony of Mildred Alvarez, the family's current caseworker, and Judy Palumbo, a DYFS supervisor. It also presented the expert testimony of Alison Strasser Winston, Ph.D., who performed a psychological evaluation of D.C., Sr. and bonding evaluations of D.C., Sr. and the foster mother with Junior, and Anthony D'Urso, Psy.D., who performed a psychological evaluation of Junior. D.C., Sr. testified on his own behalf and presented the expert testimony of James R. Reynolds, Ph.D., who performed a psychological evaluation of him and a bonding evaluation of him and his son. He also presented the testimony of his mother, L.C., and K.H., his brother's former girlfriend.
Junior was born on January 1, 2003. A year later, when DYFS first became involved with the family, he was living with his mother in a shelter. She was on the verge of being evicted for drug use and not abiding by shelter rules. D.C., Sr. had already been ordered to leave for failing to make curfew, and had moved in with his mother, L.C. In mid-February, L.C. ordered her son to leave her residence and, because both parents were homeless, they agreed to place Junior with her.
Around that time, D.C., Sr. failed to comply with instructions from a DYFS caseworker to take his ailing son to the doctor. The caseworker made the appointment and required D.C., Sr. to attend with her. D.C., Sr. was unable to accurately describe his son's symptoms or medical history to the doctor. He also stated he had given the child an unknown dose of baby Tylenol, which he believed to be an antibiotic, everyday for the past two weeks. Accordingly, the pediatrician urged the caseworker to have DYFS supervise the situation.
Dr. Utica, who performed a psychological evaluation of D.C., Sr., found he was exceedingly immature, impressionistic, and struggling with gender identity issues. Furthermore, D.C., Sr. was not capable of maintaining housing or employment, and was not sufficiently emotionally stable to assume primary responsibility for his son. Dr. Utica recommended D.C., Sr. have only supervised visitation with his son and receive psychological treatment and parenting skills classes.
On March 1, 2004, L.C. offered to become her grandson's foster parent. She was employed as a teacher and owned her own home. DYFS obtained physical and legal custody of Junior and continued his placement with L.C. D.C., Sr. was only permitted supervised visitation with his son. Over the next year, D.C., Sr. was hospitalized and participated in outpatient therapy sessions pertaining to mental health issues.
In February and March of 2005, he met with Kenneth Schulman, Ph.D., for a court-ordered psychological evaluation. D.C., Sr. advised he had not worked since the summer of 2004, and had been living with friends and relatives for the past year. He admitted to having auditory hallucinations, for which he had been prescribed medicine, but otherwise appeared to Dr. Schulman to be "faking good," i.e., hiding his negative characteristics. Dr. Schulman found D.C., Sr.'s personality was obsessive-compulsive, histrionic and narcissistic. He was also emotionally immature and unable to withstand normal levels of stress, resulting in a low frustration tolerance and poor impulse control, and was susceptible to becoming anxious, depressed, listless and discouraged. Accordingly, Dr. Schulman concluded D.C., Sr. was not currently capable of effectively parenting and was not likely to become capable in the foreseeable future. The psychologist recommended D.C., Sr. only be allowed supervised visitation with his son.
On August 4, 2005, the court entered an order appointing L.C. as her grandson's legal guardian, with D.C., Sr.'s consent. A condition of the guardianship was that D.C., Sr. have only supervised visitation with his son. DYFS subsequently terminated its involvement with the family.
D.C., Sr. continued to have auditory hallucinations; as a result he was involuntarily committed in October 2005 and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. At some point in 2006, he moved in with L.C. and his son.
On January 17, 2007, DYFS received a referral from a Garfield Police Officer who had been summoned to Junior's daycare center. Staff had informed the officer they had not seen L.C. since mid-November and had been unable to reach her. They had also been advised by L.C.'s employer that she was on extended leave. They had grown concerned when Junior began coming to school looking disheveled and, on at least one occasion, without a proper lunch, and upon noticing that A.C., a paternal uncle, had been consistently dropping him off and picking him up. Junior had also arrived at school with a three-or four-inch long scratch on his stomach, and told varying stories about how he had been injured, ...